Author: Catherine Chung
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
On the night Janie waits for her sister, Hannah, to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe. As time passes, Janie hears more stories, while facts remain unspoken. Her father tells tales about numbers, and in his stories everything works out. In her mother's stories, deer explode in fields, frogs bury their loved ones in the ocean, and girls jump from cliffs and fall like flowers into the sea. Within all these stories are warnings.
Years later, when Hannah inexplicably cuts all ties and disappears, Janie embarks on a mission to find her sister and finally uncover the truth beneath her family's silence. To do so, she must confront their history, the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and ultimately her conflicted feelings toward her sister and her own role in the betrayal behind their estrangement.
Weaving Korean folklore within a modern narrative of immigration and identity, "Forgotten Country" is a fierce exploration of the inevitability of loss, the conflict between obligation and freedom, and a family struggling to find its way out of silence and back to one another.
Told from the point of view of Janie, the oldest of two sisters, we are taken along a twenty-something-years long span of the rise and fall of a family. When Hannah, Janie's little sister, suddenly disappears without word, her parents demand that Janie find her and bring her home. A math major in college, Janie is struggling to find her own identity while trying to understand her family history and learn what made her sister leave without warning. We follow Janie on her journey to find her sister and also glimpse a bit of family history as well as Korean history through her stories and memories.
Intense. That is the most fitting word I can think of to describe Forgotten Country. Janie is a mostly likable character. While she does have her faults (we all do, really), she is more than once willing to put her wants and needs behind those of her parents and does what she can to please them. When Hannah disappears and refuses to talk to the family, Janie puts her life on hold, even during an extremely critical time in her life, to find Hannah and bring her home. She does everything her parents ask of her even though she is not rewarded.
Hannah, on the other hand, I could not tolerate. I honestly wanted to jump into this book and strangle her. She is a selfish, spoiled brat and seemed to have little regard for her family or their feelings. Even though we do learn her reasoning, I still did not find it good enough. Even after finishing the book, I just couldn't sympathize with her.
I really enjoyed reading about the family history and even their country's history. Sometimes when you read about war, you don't connect to it. Yes, I know this happens everyday but I think we block most of it out. I think we have to. If we were to think about these situations everyday we would lose our minds. The stories told in Forgotten Country are believable and heart breaking. The amount of grief put upon this family is almost unbearable.
The hardest part about reading Forgotten Country was the family dynamics. Not between Hannah and her immediate family, but other family members. I personally wouldn't tolerate the situations that occur. For instance, Janie's Komo (aunt) is an extremely aggressive woman and treats Janie, Hannah and their parents as if she is in charge of them. She is rude, blunt and unkind. Janie's father does not stick up for his family and lets Komo say and do as she pleases to them. I understand this is their culture, but I personally would not be able to keep my mouth shut. Other family members are also aggressive and only bring chaos with them. However, I understand that the focal point of this story is, in fact, the family dynamics and if it were all roses and kittens then there wouldn't be this book to read in the first place.
I don't want to give away too much of this book. I think knowing too much would detract from the story when reading it for the first time. I really did like this book quite a bit, even though it was very hard to read at times because of the nature of the story. If you love family dramas and are looking for a heavier read, don't pass this one up.